It can be argued that everything in sport training, development and competition can be related back to the jump in terms of the lower body and movement. The squat is a jump – type movement, only in slow motion. The clean, jerk and the snatch are jumps with weight. Most sports possess some type of jumping action in the normal course of action. Plyometrics are a variety of usually linear jumps that come to us from the discipline of track and field. Agility and mobility drills are just multi – directional plyometrics developed by sport coaches over the years to mimic the demands of sport. Even the action of sprinting can be argued to be nothing more than jumping from foot to foot. We have noted for years there is a very high correlation between the ability to jump high and/or far and the ability to accelerate for 10, 20, 40 and 60 yards. If we accept these statements as true, then if we increase the ability to jump (and land) then will this translate to an increased ability to accelerate, sprint and change direction? If we accept this premise as probable, then is it the jump that is the training stimulus or the landing?
Observe pre-schoolers as they play. They absolutely love to jump down off of stuff and land in a deep squat position. They will spend many minutes climbing up on playground equipment, walls, steps, bleachers and even the couch and jump off and land in a deep squat position. However, they spend very little time trying to jump up and touch stuff. Now observe any athlete in competition as they jump up. They will gather themselves eccentrically to load the musculature, jump up concentrically to execute the movement and then (remember – what goes up must come down) they will land and again load the system eccentrically. Many experts in the field of athletic development have stated that the better able the athlete is in accepting load and absorbing force the better the athlete will be in producing force. Many of our accepted plyometric experts have for years taught us the progression of teaching the landing first when introducing plyometric training.
In order to develop the ability to jump (and the corresponding ability to accelerate and change direction) we must first teach the skill of landing. We must then refine the skill of landing and then begin to repeat (or rep) the skill of landing. Finally we must master the skill of landing in a variety of stances and a variety of ranges of motion while accepting a variety of loads. We can increase the time under tension by holding the landing position for time. We can increase the load by jumping up in the air, jumping down off of a box or adding weight via a weight vest or dumbbells (I would recommend only adding up to 10% of fat free weight as a starting point). We can increase the volume by adding reps and doing multiple sets. We can progress from squat stance activities to split squat or lunge stance activities in order to increase the difficulty and load. We can increase the functionality by jumping off of two legs and landing on one, since many sports skills are executed off of one leg. Proper posture is paramount as is equal weight distribution through the foot with the big toe, little toe and heel supporting the body weight in a 60 – 40 distribution from the fore foot to the heel.
As far as a training progression is concerned, I would recommend the following:
Can the athlete physically get into the position with:
even and equal weight distribution
stamina for up to a 30 second hold
Can the athlete hold and pulse up and down in the squat or split squat position for:
up to 30 seconds
up to 20 repetitions
Can the athlete drop down into a squat or split squat position?
Can the athlete drop down into a squat or split position and hold and pulse?
Can the athlete execute the above protocols with added weight?
Can the athlete jump up and land in and hold a good squat/split squat position?
Can the athlete execute the drill jumping down off of a low box?
Can the athletes execute the drill jumping down off of increasing box heights?
I would recommend a ratio of two holds/drops for every jump type activity for beginners or at the beginning of a training period. Remember, the more force the athlete can absorb, the more load the athlete can accept, the more force they will be able to produce as the muscles and tendons become trained to store the elastic/kinetic energy and produce the force with great impulse into the ground in a short amortization phase during the stretch – shortening cycle.
Some of the landings and holds will be low or deep in nature as it takes a greater range of motion to accept the force placed on the system as the athlete lands. Other landings will be higher in the squat or split squat position as the forces are not so great. Coach the athlete to land as “softly” as possible, in as “high” a position as possible. Other times coach the athlete to land soft in a “low” position.
In order to run fast and jump high the athlete must be able to land strong and accept load. In order to convert strength into power as the training cycle progresses, the athlete must possess the ability to accept load/absorb force first, before converting it to power in an efficient manner. The quicker the impulse, the shorter the amortization phase the more powerful the athlete. This is a trainable commodity, but the foundation is the ability to demonstrate eccentric strength and the foundation must be developed first and must be strong and stable.